MANILA - Several local and international organizations have appealed to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday to urgently launch an independent investigation mechanism on alleged rights abuses in the Philippines.
The rights advocates, in a statement addressed to the UN rights body, said they are "gravely concerned" over the alleged human rights violations being committed by the Philippine government "with near-total impunity."
"We urge your delegation to ensure that the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) responds robustly to the recent report on the situation in the Philippines by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) when it convenes for its upcoming 45th session. Specifically, we urge you to actively work towards the adoption of a resolution establishing an independent international investigative mechanism on extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016, with a view to contributing to accountability," they said.
The OHCHR earlier said in a report that the Philippines' stance on addressing national security threats and illegal drugs has led to serious human rights violations, including the killing of more than 8,000 people during the government's drug war, based on official figures.
The murder of 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists in connection with their work were also linked to the government. Dissenters have been vilified or arbitrarily arrested and detained, according to the report.
Because of the "failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability," the UN report emphasized there is a need for "independent, impartial, credible investigations into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law."
"As noted in the High Commissioner's report, persistent impunity for human rights violations is stark and the practical obstacles to accessing justice within the country are almost insurmountable," the right groups said.
"Families of victims express total helplessness in describing their inability to obtain justice for their loved ones, citing the enormous obstacles to filing cases, the continued difficulty of obtaining police or autopsy reports, and the immense fear of retaliation they experience.
"The climate of total impunity leaves police and other unidentified gunmen, widely believed to be associated with law enforcement agencies, able to commit further extrajudicial executions without consequence," they said.
Rights advocates noted that since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power in 2016, the "human rights situation in the Philippines has undergone a dramatic decline."
"President Duterte's administration has undermined institutions that have attempted to address impunity at the national and international level and thwarted independent investigations, including in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The government's withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, following the 2018 launch of a preliminary examination into crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Philippine government in the context of the 'war on drugs', shows yet another way in which the authorities have sought to evade accountability," they said.
"Not only has the government sought to evade accountability, but the President and other high-level officials have continued to encourage killings and given assurances to perpetrators that they would enjoy impunity for such killings," they added.
Rights advocates said that "given the failure of the Philippine authorities to stop or effectively investigate crimes under international law and punish those responsible", creating an independent, impartial and comprehensive probe into the alleged human rights violations by the government since Duterte became president in 2016 is the "only credible next step" that the UNHRC can take to address the rights situation in the country.
"The creation of such a mechanism is the only credible next step that the HRC can take to address the ongoing human rights crisis in the Philippines."
Among the 61 groups that signed the statement were Amnesty International, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Franciscans International, Free Legal Assistance Group, Human Rights Watch, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Philippinenbüro e.V., and Reporters Without Borders.
Even as local and international experts say the country's human rights situation is worsening ever since 2016, Manila's Permanent Mission to the United Nations earlier said that that the country’s "track record of human rights leadership in the UN and continuing of robust engagements" refute accusations that the Philippine government has not been cooperating with the UN, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and human rights mechanisms.
"The Philippines attaches the highest importance to open dialogue and constructive cooperation and continues to play a pivotal role in various multilateral fora," the mission said.